Conservation means “keeping safe”. Conservation of the environment means not only looking after natural wild places and wildlife, but maintaining historical treasures, such as buildings and objects from the past as well. Natural resources include all the things that help to maintain life, including soil, sunlight, water, air, oil and minerals, plants and animals. There are over six billion people on Earth today and they all need land to live on, food to eat and fuel for power. The challenge for human beings is to find a balance between what is needed and how to care for the environment. Global awareness is a new phenomenon. Some conservation issues are local, such as when local woodland is threatened with clearing to make way for a new road. Other issues are important to people everywhere. These include recycling, saving energy, avoiding pollution and feeding the hungry.
Conservation means “keeping safe”. Conservation of the environment means not only looking after natural wild places and wildlife, but maintaining historical treasures, such as buildings and objects from the past as well.
Natural resources consist of all the things that help to maintain life, including soil, sunlight, water, air, oil and minerals, plants and animals. There are about more than six billion people on Earth today and they all need land to live on, food to eat and fuel for power. The challenge for human beings is to obtain a balance between what is needed and how to care for the environment. Global awareness is a new phenomenon. Some conservation issues are local, such as when local woodland is threatened with clearing to make way for a new road. Other issues are important to people everywhere. These include recycling, saving energy, avoiding pollution and feeding the hungry.
New schemes are being tried to encourage conservation. For example, the “debt for nature” idea means that a poor country has some of its international debt cancelled in exchange for setting aside areas for conservation. If local people see that looking after plants and animals helps them live better lives, there is a much better chance for conservation to work.
All living things, from the tiniest bacterium to the largest mammal, share the planet. These organisms form communities that live together in a balanced state. A community of organisms that lives in a particular are, along with the soil and other non-living material, forms what scientists call an ecosystem. Ecosystems can be a small as a water-filled hole in a forest tree, or as large as the forest itself. In a perfect ecosystem, all the components are balanced. For example, plants provide food and oxygen needed by animals, and their waste products are recycled in the soil to be used by new plants as they grow.
The study of animals and plants in their natural environment is called Ecology. Ecologists try to find out why animals and plants live in some places but not in others. They also study the conditions needed to survive. Most organisms are well adapted to the place where they live, their habitat, and in their relationships with other animals and plants. However, outside interference may affect this natural balance. Many of the world’s natural ecosystems have taken thousands of years to reach a balanced state. If the climate does not change suddenly, an ecosystem can stay balanced for thousands more years. However, humans often upset these balanced environments.
An example of how humans can disrupt a balanced environment comes from the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona, United States. Here, the deer population was kept in check by coyotes and pumas. When people began hunting these predators, the natural balance was upset. With fewer predators to control their numbers, there were soon too many deer for the available food. As a result, many deer and other animals were forced to compete for the same food sources and died of starvation.
Ecologists study what animals, plants and other organisms eat in order to learn about how they are linked together in ‘food chains’. In a food chain, there are usually several levels. At the first level are the producers, green plants that use energy of the Sun to make new growth. Plants are eaten by consumers, animals called herbivores (plant-eaters). These consumers are in turn eaten by animals called carnivores (meat-eaters). Each member in the food chain feeds on, and obtains energy from the previous level. In this way, energy is transferred from level to level. When living things die, their bodies break down and release nutrients into the ground and the process begins all over again.
Species play different roles in their habitats. Herds of grazing animals on the African grasslands all appear to be eating the same food, grass and leaves. In fact, each species feeds on different plants or different parts of a particular plant. For example, the giraffe’s long neck allows it to feed on leaves out of reach of other animals. Each species has its own place, or niche, in nature. All can live together, so long as there is no outside interference.
Human interference is a serious problem in today’s world. At Etosha National Park in Namibia, for example, people began digging gravel to build roads. Gravel pits filled with stagnant water, in which deadly anthrax germs thrived. Wildebeest and zebra drank the infected water, became ill, ad were easy prey for lions. The lion population grew, but their prey died out. So the lions began hunting eland antelope, which were resistant to anthrax, until the antelope population was threatened. Nature keeps a balance between predator and prey. Unless people learn lessons, the balance will continue to be disrupted.
Each of the world’s landscapes offers living space for a variety of plants and animals. Each habitat is an action zone where change can bring damage or destruction. Climate, soil and living things create habitats. A habitat is the home of a particular species of animal or plant. A habitat provides the animal or plant with food, shelter and the conditions that allow them to survive. Each habitat is a complex, well-balanced system. The animals and plants within the habitat are suited to, and dependent on, their environment and on one another.
Biomes and Micro-Habitats
The various types of habitats classified by scientists include woodland, forest, desert, mountainside, pond, river, marsh, and ocean. A specific area of grassland, such as the pampas of Argentina, is a habitat. A large general habitat, such as a grassland or rainforest, is called a biome. Each biome contains thousands of small and specialized living spaces just as a huge building contains many rooms. These spaces can be as small as a pool of water or a patch of grass. They are known as micro-habitats, and they support their own community of plants and animals.
The largest of all the Earth’s biomes are the oceans. They cover an amazing 71 per cent of the planet’s surface. The oceanic biome is arranged in layers, according to how warm or salty the water is, and how far down the sunlight reaches, from the warm seas of the tropical Indian Ocean to the icy waters of Antarctica. Within the oceans are special habitats such as coral reefs, sandy shores, and river mouths or estuaries.
Human activity can interfere with the mechanism of the world’s biomes. Conservationists were alarmed when, in 1974, oil companies began building a pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in Alaska. It was feared the pipeline crossing the tundra might damage the permafrost (soil that is frozen all year round) and interfere with the annual migration of caribou herds. Fortunately, the damage was less than was at first feared. In South America, however, damage to the Amazon rainforest from highway construction, logging and ranching has been far more serious. Vast areas of forest have disappeared in the past 20 years.
In northern Africa, people keep flocks of sheep and goats, far more than the scant vegetation can support. The hungry animals nibble the shoots and roots of the plants, killing them. Along the southern of the Sahara Desert, precious grass, shrubs and trees have been lost in this way. Without the protection of the plants, whose roots help bind the thin soil, the land quickly becomes desert. In places, the Sahara is advancing by more than 40 kilometers a year.
Every one of the world’s habitats depends on climate. A change in climate can bring a disastrous change in a habitat and affect animals, plants and people. Weather records going back to the 1600s, show that the world is gradually getting warmer. The 1990s broke records for high temperatures worldwide, with four of the ten hottest years ever recorded. In the future, climate change may cause polar icecaps to melt, releasing huge amounts of water into the oceans. Sea levels might rise, and floods could become more frequent in low-lying countries.